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A Hunger Artist & Other Stories; Poems and Songs of Love

A Hunger Artist & Other Stories; Poems and Songs of Love

By Thor Polson Elana Wolff

Kafka's writings are characterized by an extreme sensitivity manifested in absurdity, alienation, and gallows humor, and these two particular collections of short pieces, A Country Doctor (1919) and A Hunger Artist (1924), represent later works in the corpus. Poems and Songs of Love is a translation of the collection Piyyutim ve-Shirei Yedidot by Georg Mordechai Langer, which contains an elegy to Langer's friend and mentor Franz Kafka. Langer and Kafka hailed from the same middle-class, assimilated, Jewish Prague background and shared a mutual interest in Hasidic culture, literature, and Hebrew. This collaborative translation by Elana and Menachem Wolff from the Hebrew brings the fascinating work of Langer -- poems as well as an essay on Kafka -- to the English-reading public for the first time and sheds light on a hitherto unexplored relationship.


Guernica Editions (Essential Translations Series)


150 pages |

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In his “Translator’s Notes” Thor Polson describes his role as that of an “arbitrary collaborator working figuratively with an absent author, living or dead” with the goal to “convey both the word and the spirit of the text”. In his translations of Kafka’s story collections A Country Doctor and A Hunger Artist, Polson has succeeded admirably in this role and with this goal. His translations give the reader an English text that reproduces Kafka’s German with remarkable accuracy and a clear sense of respect for Kafka’s words and sentences. In fact, it is at the level of the sentence, paragraph, and whole story that Polson’s achievement is perhaps most admirable. He succeeds at the difficult task of giving the English reader a sense of Kafka’s cadences, rhythms and narrative progression. By doing so, his translations go even beyond conveying “the word and the spirit” of the text: they convey, better than other translations of these stories that I am aware of, the full impact of Kafka’s art.

Jens Kruse, professor of German

With an ear for both tone and authenticity of language, Thor Polson’s translation of the two collections A Country Doctor and A Hunger Artist further illuminates Kafka’s humor as one full of sadness, frustration, and irony. Whether it is the messenger in “A Message from the Emperor” who plays a game of Zeno’s Paradox and is never truly able to reach his destination, or the ape in “A Report for an Academy” who glibly forgives his oppressors in telling the story of how he came to resemble them, this translation — as suggested in the translator’s notes — exposes what I can only assume was at the heart of Kafka’s narrative intentions. I also believe that it is a worthwhile investment of anyone’s time to read all of Kafka’s work if only to arrive, at some point on that journey, at “A Hunger Artist”. Thor Polson’s translation of this beautiful story does not disappoint.

Ben Warner, author

Thor Polson’s translation manages to recreate the atmosphere of the Kafka texts, rendering them in clear and pleasantly fluent English, while at the same time staying very close to the original German wording. This translation will be useful to anyone looking for both a faithful and readable Kafka translation, and in particular to students of German in need of help with their own translations of the text.

Babette Pütz, Ph.D.

The Wolffs have given us a rare gift: a view of Franz Kafka through the poetry and prose of Georg Mordechai Langer, one of Kafka’s most imaginative and unconventional friends. Those interested in Kafka – and I think by now this includes just about everyone who reads seriously – will find this book absorbing.

Kenneth Sherman, poet and essayist

Thor Polson’s translations evoke a present-day voice for Kafka’s stories with a deliberate sensitivity that stays true to Kafka’s subtleties and nuances. Polson mediates a style of Kafka that, by the end of this volume, has become recognisable as Polson’s own. To a native German speaker and a student of German literature, both in German and in translation, Polson’s Kafka is eerily reminiscent of reading Kafka for the first time. A great feat for a translator of Kafka is to convey that particular, ephemeral currency of Kafka’s narrative, and something Polson achieves beautifully.

Nina Gerschack, editor and translator

Polson translates Kafka with a sensitivity and insight faithful to this often enigmatic writer. Polson’s translation is not only accurate, but he has gone to great lengths to preserve the linguistic style of the original while at the same time presenting the text in an English version which is readable and which avoids the clumsiness and ambiguity so often found in translations of stylistically complex texts. The reader who is familiar with the German original of the Kafka texts will be pleased to recognize the work of the author in Polson’s English transformation.

Paul A. Schons, professor of German

Thor Polson’s long, cascading sentences vividly echo Kafka’s original flow, punctuated by an accumulation of events that alternates with pauses conveying the characters’ doomed attempts to escape the inexorability of their destiny.

Laetitia Saint-Loubert, translator


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About the author

Thor Polson has a master’s degree in German literature from Middlebury College, and his other writings include Childsong, a novel published by Athena Press of London. For more information about this writer and his work, visit

Elana Wolff has published six solo collections of poetry with Guernica Editions, including You Speak to Me in Trees, awarded the F.G. Bressani Prize for Poetry, and, most recently, Swoon, winner of the 2020 Canadian Jewish Literary Award for Poetry. She is also the author of Implicate Me, a collection of essays on contemporary poems; co-author with the late Malca Litovitz of Slow Dancing: Creativity and Illness (Duologue and Rengas); co-editor with Julie Roorda of Poet to Poet: Poems written to poets and the stories that inspired them; and co-translator with Menachem Wolff of Poems and Songs of Love by Georg by Mordechai Langer (from Hebrew), half of the joint volume, A Hunger Artist and Other Stories, by Franz Kafka, translated by Thor Polson (from German). A bilingual edition of Elana’s selected poems, Helleborus & Alchémille (Éditions du Noroît) was awarded the 2014 John Glassco Prize for Translation (translator: Stéphanie Roesler). Elana has taught English for Academic Purposes at York University in Toronto and at The Hebrew University in Jerusalem. She currently divides her professional time between writing poetry and creative nonfiction, literary editing, and designing and facilitating social art courses.